Let me tell you about a Carers Support group I go to. It’s specifically for people who are carers for somebody with a mental illness: spouses, partners, siblings, children. It took me a long time to realise that I’m now a carer as well as a wife – it was about eighteen months and went something like this…
I’m definitely not a carer. After all, carers look after people with physical illnesses and impairments don’t they? Not mental illnesses like DH. I mean yes, I need to remind him to eat, wash, dress and take his medication. And sure, I have to go with him whenever he leaves the house because otherwise he can’t set foot outside. And yeah, I watch him all the time for signs that he’s becoming depressed or manic, or at risk of a panic attack or psychosis. And of course I accompany him to his medical appointments because he often can’t speak to professionals or people he doesn’t know well without becoming extremely anxious. But I’m definitely not a…..oh. I am. Huh.
Having come to the realisation that yes, I am a carer, I started to look around for some support. Because being a carer is tough. Especially when the person you’re caring for is the person you’re used to leaning on, so you lose your main source of support just when you need it most. And while I’m fortunate to have supportive friends and family, it’s frustrating having to take the time to explain so much when I just need to rant or have a good cry.
I’m lucky that there’s a great Carers Support charity in my area, and that there’s a group especially for mental health carers. Because within that group there’s no need to give all the background information or pause to explain things – the others know what it’s like and they understand how demanding, frustrating and emotional it can be. It’s like talking in a kind of short-hand, and within the group there’s a wealth of experience with all kinds of mental illnesses and the situations that can arise.
So what happens in the support group? Well, we talk. We laugh. We cry. We drink a lot of tea and coffee and we talk some more. But most of all we remind each other that we have to care for ourselves too.